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Document Automation & the High Cost of Cheap Software

Think About It

Cheaper DocAuto Software Just Costs More

When it comes to technology, there’s always a trade-off between quality and cost.  If you’re buying a new computer, you can choose a more expensive model with a faster processor, more storage space, more memory, or a better graphics card.  Or, you can give up some or all of those features if you want to pay less.  However, everyone typically has different values when it comes to assessing quality—and this is especially true when it comes to choosing a new document automation solution.‍

When choosing the right document automation software, you’ll want to ask yourself several questions.  What are you trying to accomplish?  Is the user interface easy to navigate?  Does it support your preferred datasources and programming languages?  Is the template designer easy to use?  Who will mainly be using the software, programmers or business users?

Software Is Expensive to Build & Maintain

A cartoon of 3 dollar bills stacked.

Many companies are tempted to build their own document automation solution into their current application because, on the surface, it seemingly costs less money.  Building might seem like the cheapest software solution.  But while it might cost the company less upfront, there will still be costs affecting the bottom line.  Consider:

Software is only truly cheap when it does not require constant developer intervention or maintenance. If your business users can develop stunning templates and generate documents, invoices, and reports all on their own, then you're saving your developers' time and your executives' money. And with an easy-to-use template design interface, you'll also save time and money on training as well.

Can your developers build a document automation solution from scratch that requires no further maintenance from their team?  Would you business users be able to create templates in whatever interface your developers design?  Consider these questions before moving forward.

Insecure Software & Non-Compliant Documents Cost More

A cartoon of a dollar bill on fire.

Legal and regulatory requirements change frequently, and your documents must keep up.  For example, healthcare workers and pharmaceutical researchers cannot turn in documents that don’t meet rigid board standards.  You’ll save time, and therefore money, with documents automatically generated from templates that meet legal and corporate requirements.  And generating documents directly from your company’s datasource will ensure that the data is accurate, with no room for user error.

Moreover, you’ll want to make sure whatever document automation solution you choose will integrate securely with your current security structure.  There are constantly new hacks, exploits, and security issues to keep on top of, and you want to make sure whatever document automation software you install can keep up.

Scalable Document Automation Costs Less

A cartoon of three 1-cent coins.

Scalability is an essential part of excellent document automation software.  You can consider a solution scalable when you won’t need to redesign it to maintain effective document generation performance or accommodate your company’s growth.  Ask: can your chosen solution grow or change with your users’ demands?

Changes cost money.  Big changes cost even more money.  If your company’s document generation requirements are likely to change in the future (and if you don’t think they will—they will), it’s important right now to pick a scalable and flexible solution so you’re not left scrambling or paying a premium for new software.  You’ll want to look for a solution that has a small or even no limit on the number of simultaneous documents or number of pages.

Evaluating Your Document Automation Options

This guide will walk you through how to determine which document automation or document generation product is best for you.  No one solution, not even Windward’s, is best for all use cases.

It’s important now to carefully consider all of your options so you won’t be making a costly mistake in the future.  Reviews can help immensely.

And if you're still unsure, Windward always offers a free, 14-day trial.

Tags Start & End

Tags Can Start & End Anywhere

Appendix B

.NET code for multi-page image output

Appendix A

Java code for multi-page image output

Data Bin Search

The Data Bin can now be searched to find a table, column, node or other piece of data without scrolling through it all.

Shrink to Fit

This will shrink the contents of a cell until it fits the defined cell size.

Time Zone Conversion

A new Windward macro has been added to help with converting dates and times from UTC time to the local time zone.

Image Output Format

New image output formats added.

PostScript Output Format

PostScript, commonly used with printers and printing companies, has been added as an additional output format.

New and Improved Datasets (Designer, Java Engine, .NET Engine)

Datasets have been re-written from scratch to be more powerful and easier to use.

Stored Procedure Wizard (Designer)

This works for all tag types that are connected to a SQL-based data source (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, or DB2).

Boolean Conditional Wizard (Designer)

Before, conditional statements could only be written manually. Now they can also be built using our intuitive Wizard interface.

Reorganized Ribbon

The ribbon menus have been re-organized and consolidated to improve the report design workflow.

XPath 2.0 as Data Source

Adds various capabilities such as inequalities,descending sort, joins, and other functions.

SQL Select Debugger

SQL Select  Debugger

  • The look and feel was improved
  • Stored Procedure Wizard
  • Improved Exceptions pane

Tag Editor/Tag Selector

Added a Query tab as a field for typing or pasting in a select statement

  • Color Coding of Keywords
  • TypeAhead
  • Evaluate is now "Preview"

Rename a Datasource

All tags using that Data source will be automatically updated with that name.

Connecting to a Data Source

New single interface to replace 2 separate dialog boxes

Tag Tree

Displays of all the tags in the template, structured as they are placed in the template. This provides a simple & intuitive way to see the structure of your template. Also provides the capability to go to any tag and/or see the properties of any tag.

Added Javelin into the RESTful Engine

Support for Google Application Engine Integration

The ability to integrate the Windward Engine into Google’s cloud computing platform for developing and hosting web applications dubbed Google Applications Engine (GAE).

Additional Refinement for HTML Output

  • Improved indentation for ordered and unordered lists
  • Better handling of template header and footer images
  • Better handling for background images and colors

Redesigned PDF Output Support

This new  integration will allow for processing of complex scripts and bi-directional  text such as Arabic.  Your PDF output  will be much tighter and more closely match your template, and we’ll be able  to respond rapidly to PDF requests and fixes.

PowerPoint Support

Includes support for new ForEach and slide break handling, table header row repeat across slide breaks, and native Microsoft support for charts and images.

Tags are Color Coded

Tags are color coded in the template by type, making it easy to visually identify them.

Increased Performance

Version 13’s core code has been reworked and optimized to offer a reduced memory footprint, faster PDF generation and full documentation of supported features and limitations in the specifications for DOCX, XLSX and PPTX.

Advanced Image Properties

Documents can include advanced Word image properties such as shadows, borders, and styles.

Improved HTML Output

Windward has updated HTML output to reflect changing HTML standards.

Version 13 New Data Sources

Windward now works with a slew of new datasources: MongoDB, JSON, Cassandra, OData, Salesforce.com

Generate Code

The Generate Code tool in the designer allows you to open an existing template and, with a click of a button, automatically create a window with the code needed to run your current template with all data sources and variables. Simply copy this code and paste into your application's code in the appropriate place. You now have Windward integrated into your application.

You only need to do this once. You do not do this for each template. Instead, where it has explicit files for the template and output, change that to parameters you pass to this code. Same for the parameters passed to Windward. This example uses explicit values to show you what to substitute in where.

Pivot Tables Adjusted in Output

Any pivot tables in an XLSX template are carried over to the XLSX output. The ranges in the pivot ranges are adjusted to match the generated output. So your final XLSX will have pivot tables set as expected in the generated file.

This makes creating an XLSX workbook with pivot tables trivial.

Imported Template Can be Set to Match the Parent Styles

In an imported sub-template, if its properties for a style (ex. Normal) differ from the parent template's properties for the style, the use in the sub-template can be set to either use the properties in the sub-template, or the properties in the parent.

You set to retain when you don't want the child template's styling to change when imported. You set to use the parent when you want the styling of the imported template to match the styling in the parent.

Any explicit styling is always retained. This only impacts styling set by styles.

Tags can be Placed in Text Boxes

Tags can be placed in text boxes. Including linked text boxes. This gives you the ability to set the text in a textbox from your data.

Tags can be Placed in Shapes & Smart Art

Tags can be placed in shapes & smart art. This gives you the ability to set the text in a shape from your data.

HTML Output Supports Embedded Images

When generating HTML output, the engine can either write bitmaps as distinct files the generate HTML references, or it can embed the images in the HTML providing a single file for the output.

Footnotes & Endnotes can Have Tags

You can place tags in pretty much any part of a template, including in footnotes & endnotes.

Document Locking Supported in DOCX & XLSX

Any parts of a DOCX or XLSX (PowerPoint does not support this) file that are locked in the template, will be locked the same in the output.

Specify Font Substitution

If a font used in the template does not exist on the server generating a report, the font to substitute can be specified.
In addition, if a glyph to be rendered does not exist in the font specified, you can specify the replacement font. This can be set distinctly for European, Bi-Directional, and Far East fonts.

Process Multiple Datasources Simultaneously

If you need this - it's essential. And if you don't need it, it's irrelevant.

Windward enables you to build a document by applying multiple datasources to the template simultaneously. When Windward is merging the data into a template, it processes the template by handling each tag in order, and each tag pulls from different datasources. (As opposed to processing all of one datasource, then processing the next.)

This allows the select tag to use data from another datasource in its select. For example, if you are pulling customer information from one data source, you can then pull data from the sales datasource using the customer ID of the customer presently processing to pull the sales information for that customer. If you're interested in patching together your data from multiple datasources, read this post on our blog.

Written by:_
Cassie Hottenstein

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